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A majority of the Charles County Planning Commission rejected on a 3-2 vote a request from commission Chairman Courtney Edmonds to consider doing economic, environmental and quality-of-life impact studies for the comprehensive plan update.

Edmonds and planning commission member Joe Tieger voted for the studies. Commission Vice Chairman Joe Richards and planning commission members Lou Grasso and Bob Mitchell voted against having the studies.

Edmonds asked the commission to reconsider its Feb. 13 decision not to conduct studies, citing that many groups and citizens have requested studies, and new information and events have transpired.

Edmonds quoted a Feb. 2 letter from the Charles County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Committee that states, “We urge the County to base all decisions on this and other environmental issues on true scientific data and analysis. ... The enactment of such broad changes in our land use patterns and zoning and land use laws without specific data in each instance as to the economic impact to our County is fiscally irresponsible.”

Edmonds also quoted literature from the Balanced Growth Initiative that states the organization’s concern about “no fiscal impact study to determine the economic viability of down zoning; there has been no study to show economic impact on tax base for commercial, industrial, and personal tax structures.”

Edmonds also cited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to reject a permit for the cross-county connector, the ending of the public-private partnership to build the Indian Head Science & Technology Park and a report from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources on the Mattawoman Creek that advocates for protection of the creek in the 2012 comprehensive plan.

Edmonds passed a memo to each of the planning commission members, which included excerpts from the presentation DNR made to the county commissioners March 15.

One of the excerpts stated, “The future of the Mattawoman Watershed is at a turning point. As presently planned, the Development District will irreversibly alter the ability of Charles County citizens and tourists to have access to clean water, high quality fisheries, and a great outdoor experience, unless specific steps are taken to bring regulation and land-use policies in line with the stated county vision of protecting the Mattawoman.”

After the request failed, Mitchell said he wanted more time to digest what was in the memo and felt that the commission was left out of the comprehensive plan process.

Planning Director Steve Ball said that planning commission members were invited to every meeting and event related to the comprehensive plan update, including stakeholder interviews.

Edmonds said that Mitchell could make a motion to discuss reconsidering the studies vote at the next meeting while the commission members could read over the memo.

“We did not as a commission participate in the selection of experts who gave testimony and the scenarios. Am I wrong?” Mitchell asked.

The county commissioners and planning commission held two joint meetings where experts from the National Center for Smart Growth, Whitman, Requardft & Associates, the Maryland National Capital Building Industry Association, the Center for Watershed Protection and the Maryland Department of the Environment came to present possible studies or information the county could use for the comprehensive plan.

Mitchell later said that the commission did not get to select speakers at charrette meetings where planning staff presented proposed land use scenarios developed to guide the county comprehensive plan.

“I understand your concerns. ... Some members took it upon themselves to suggest speakers. I believe Mr. Bunker and Mr. Tieger suggested speakers or at least suggested topics. I do believe some of the planning commission members, you could say, took a leadership role and provided suggestions,” Edmonds said.

Tieger recommended that some experts who developed reports for the charrette meetings come back to the planning commission so that members could have a dialogue with the experts.

Mitchell said that the county government had spent $300,000 on consultants on the comprehensive plan and didn’t have any money in the planning budget, meaning that it was preferable not to reconsider the studies.

In June, Ball said that the department was running out of funds for its fiscal 2012 budget. Fiscal 2013 started July 1.

Mitchell said he already made a decision and will stick by it. He did not make a motion to consider the issue at the next meeting, but commended Edmonds for his analysis.

Mitchell said he wants to know the impacts of sewage from Washington, D.C., on the Mattawoman Creek and whether snakeheads are eating herring eggs.

The DNR report on the Mattawoman Creek cited an increase in impervious surfaces in the watershed and warned that buildout of currently proposed plans in the watershed would create areas that are 22 percent impervious surface.

Impervious surface such as asphalt and sidewalks speeds up stormwater and other water runoff, making it less likely for the soil to absorb the water. Runoff that is not absorbed can pick up excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which can enter local waterways. The excess nutrients in waterways leads to reduced oxygen levels and algae blooms, which harm fish, such as herring who lay their eggs in the Mattawoman Creek, fish eggs and other wildlife.

Richard said that the development tiers for the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act address the issues and “make the suggestion for a third-party analysis probably unnecessary.”

The county will need to map development tiers as part of the bill’s requirement. Tier one is land currently served by public sewer systems. Tier two is land planned for public sewer systems. Tier three is land that can be served by septic systems, but require a public hearing and resolution to be adopted. Tier four only permits minor subdivisions, which currently have no more than five lots, and is focused on preserving agricultural land and forests.

“I appreciate Mr. Edmonds’ analysis, but think that the tiers will be more appropriate,” Richard added.

The county commissioners voted 3-2 Aug. 21 to have the tiers drafted separately from the comprehensive plan. The county commissioners and planning commission also recommended last week making minor subdivisions no more than seven lots while adding design standards, instead of five lots as is current law.

The minor subdivision changes will have public hearings before both the planning commission and the county commissioners before they are voted upon.

One preliminary draft tier plan map recommends the Mattawoman Creek watershed in tier four, while the other puts portions of the Mattawoman Creek watershed in tier two.

pwarner@somdnews.com